Chinese musical instruments

1. Dazi 

The Dazi is an instrument (smaller than the ai) used in Beiguan (Wind Ensemble of the North) drama. The pitch of the dazi is a prime higher than that of the ai. Because the whistle used is a bit bigger than the one in the ai, the two instruments are played at the same volume. The dazi is often found used in eight-tone folk music.

2. Cymbals


The cymbal is a vibrating metal instrument. As a Beiguan instrument, it is divided according to diameter into the “Big Cymbal” and the “Small Cymbal.” Both are made of steel. The diameter of the Big Cymbal is about 25 to 30 centimeters, with the edges turned up slightly. It is a bit different from the cymbal of the western orchestra. Its sound is powerful and bright. The Small Cymbal is the same structure as the Big Cymbal, but smaller. Its sound is clear and light, suited to cheerful, bustling scenes. The bulge in the middle of the cymbals is hemispherical. There is a hole in the middle with a piece of colorful cloth through it as a handle. With this semicircular bulge in the middle as a fixed point, the sound is made by the metal around it vibrating. It has no fixed pitch, but plays an important role among the percussion instruments. Each set has two pieces, which are struck against each other to make the sound.

3. Wooden Fish
The wooden fish

The wooden fish is also called the “Divination Fish.” Originally a monk’s instrument, it was brought to China in the Han dynasty by Buddhism. 

The wooden fish serves to keep the rhythm. The larger wooden fish has a lower sound. When used together with clappers, we can play a light meter on the small wooden fish and a heavy meter on the clappers. A small wooden Fish refers to that whose diameter is less than 30 centimeters. The tone of the wooden fish is hollow and short, and mostly suited to brisk and lively melodies. 

It is a percussion instrument in Beiguan music as well. In an ordinary band, the pai Drum, clapper, nan bangzi and wooden fish are all played by the pai drum musician.

4. Four Pieces
Four Pieces

This instrument is called the Four Treasures or Four Slices in Nanguan (music of the south). It is made up of four bamboo clappers, 8 inches long and one inch wide. Each hand holds two, one manipulated by the thumb, the other by the other four fingers. The clappers are struck by swaying the arms. It produces a “que que” sound when playing, in harmony with the pipa’s fingering. 


5. Board

The Board

The Board is also called the Hardwood Clapper. It is made of three pieces of hardwood, two tied together and held in one hand, struck together. It’s a Beiguan instrument, used for keeping the rhythm.


6. Clapper 

The clapper

The clapper is a percussion instrument made of two bamboo pieces which are struck against each other. It is used for keeping the rhythm in music. In the past, there were six-piece or nine-piece long board clappers. While playing, the left hand holds the rear clapper-board and swings the boards to make a “ge ge” sound. 

It’s an instrument that is used only in Beiguan, to keep the rhythm. In the accompaniment for an opera or an instrumental ensemble, it is usually used with the Board Drum, and is played by the drummer.


7.  Jiao Lu (Barking Gong)

Jiao Lu (Barking Gong)

This instrument is also called the “Dog Barking.” It’s a small gong, eight centimeters in diameter. There are twosmall holes on the gong’s side, where it is tied up with string and hung under the small wooden fish. When playing, the left hand holds the wooden fish, the right hand holds a wooden hammer to hit it. It is thus part of a set of rhythm instruments, a small wooden fish and a small gong (a bit bigger than the Nanguan Sound Cup). It is one of the Nanguan instruments.


8. Sound Cup
Sound Cup

This instrument is also called the “Soup Gong” or “Bowl Gong.” It is a kind of small gong. The round center is slightly raised, and is about 22 centimeters in diameter. When playing, the fingers of the left hand grip the inner rim, and the right hand strikes it with a thin wooden oval “tail.” It has a prominent tone. 

There are two kinds of sound cups. One is the Beiguan Sound Cup, the small gong of Beijing Opera’s back court, identical in form and method of performance. The other is the Nanguan Sound Cup, which is rather like a miniature version of the small gong, only 5.5 centimeters in diameter. For convenience in performance, it is put in a bamboo basket and hit with a bamboo stick. Its tone is clear and lively, enhancing a brisk and happy mood. 

It is an instrument in both Beiguan and Nanguan music. During performances, it is played in conjunction with the Jiao Luo. It follows the pipa’s fingering, stopping after every stroke.


9. Chuo Board

Chuo Board

In Hakka language, it is simply called “board.” It is made of three pieces of solid black wood. Two of the pieces are tied together and linked with a third one by a string through a hole. The third one hits the two that are tied together and makes a “ge ge” sound. It is used to impart rhythm to the music. The lead performer is responsible for it. Now it has been replaced by bamboo clappers. It is one of the Beiguan instruments.


10. Big Gong

The Big Gong

This is called the “Local Gong” in the Hakka language. Some performance artists call it the zouma “Walking Horse” gong. 

It is the largest of the gongs, made of bell bronze, with a disk shape and a considerable diameter, about a foot. It is sounded by being struck by a wooden mallet, which should be wrapped in a cotton cloth, and produces a “kuang kuang” sound. There is also an even larger gong which has a bulging protuberance in the center. It has a very large and low sound, which lingers for a long time. It is good for reinforcing the atmosphere and adding to the tempo. 

It is a Beiguan instrument, played in percussion and wind music, opera back court and ceremonial procession bands. In “blown music,” the gong sounds the first beat of each stanza to enhance the power. It is usually played in Luantan opera, Hakka Eight Tones and Taoist funeral services.


11. Small Gong

The Small Gong

The Small Gong is called the “Bowl Gong” in Hakka. It is a round disk shape with sides, 16.5 centimeters  in diameter, made of bell bronze with a bulge in the center. The gong striker is 15 centimeters long and 2.5 centimeters wide. Its sound resembles the syllable “tai;” when struck lightly it is more like “lai.” When tapped with the tip of the striker board, it gives out a “dang dang” sound, with a soft tone. The gong’s face is small and its sound is soft and pure with a glissando effect when struck with the board. It can raise the spirits when played, and is widely used in opera accompaniments. 

It is used for showy performances in Beiguan, Hakka Eight Tones, and other Taiwan operas. It can fill in during the intervals in the rhythm. It is played by the suona performer, usually in conjunction with the single-leather drum.

12. Small Zhengluo (small metal gong)

It is called a qizi, or suo, in the Hakka language. It is made of bell bronze, the shape of a plate, three to five inches in diameter. The raised hemisphere in the middle is the cymbal bowl. The bowl is of different sizes, with a diameter from 5 to 7.6 centimeters, linked with a cloth or leather belt. The two cymbals are struck together, producing different pitches, called “the two tones of Yin and Yang.” It is a Beiguan instrument, and an indispensable percussion instrument in Hakka Eight Tones. In music for wind instruments, it controls the tempo of the advance. In works for string instruments, the Tang Drummer plays it, so it is necessary to wrap a cloth strip as a pad.



13. Small Cymbal
Small Cymbal

It is called a qizi or suo in Hakka language. It is made of bell bronze, the shape of a plate, three to five inches in diameter. The raised hemisphere in the middle is the cymbal bowl. The bowl is of different sizes, with a diameter from 5 to 7.6 centimeters, linked with a cloth or leather belt. The two cymbals are struck together, producing different pitches, called “the two tones of Yin and Yang.” It is a Beiguan instrument, and an indispensable percussion instrument in Hakka Eight Tones. In music for wind instruments, it controls the tempo of the advance. In works for string instruments, the Tang Drummer plays it, so it is necessary to wrap a cloth strip as a pad.

14. Bamboo Clappers
Bamboo Clappers

These are called jiajie in Hakka language. The Bamboo Clapper used in Hakka Eight Tones is made of two pieces of bamboo half-section. There are two holes on one side of each bamboo piece. They are strung together with cloth and create a sound by hitting each other. It is an instrument to set the rhythm, common in Hakka Eight Tones. The Bamboo Clapper is the chuo Board’s replacement, and is usually used in Luantan Opera.

15. Bangzi (Wooden Clappers)
Bangzi (Wooden Clappers)
In Hakka language, this is called either the qiaozi or the qiaozi Board. There are two varieties, treble and bass. It is made of solid wood, 10 centimeters long, 5 centimeters tall, and 7.6 centimeters wide, hollowed out inside. There is a channel at the side. Drumming the top with a wooden stick will make a clear, loud sound, more substantial than that of the Single-Leather Drum. It is used to denote the banyan, or “eye” (unaccented beats in Chinese music). Its tone is lower and more muffled than the board drum. The Hebei bangzi is struck with two hard sticks of different sizes, producing a loud, hard, bright sound. The Henan bangzi has a hollow, rectangular body, which when struck with wooden sticks produces a crisp, short sound. 

It is a Beiguan instrument, used by the lead performer, the same as the bangzi, clapper and Board Drum. Hakka Eight Tones uses a treble bangzi to replace the single-leather drum, since both have the crucial function of command. The bangzi is commonly used in opera accompaniment or instrumental ensembles.

16. Nao 

Used in Xia and Shang dynasties (1765 – 1122 BC), this instrument is a bronze percussion instrument resembles a cymbal. The biggest difference is that the central bulge of a cymbal is larger than that of the nao. It is a Beiguan instrument.


17. Qing 


It has a bell shape, facing upwards, and is made of copper. When struck on the side with a stick, it gives out a very prolonged sound with a humming acoustic. It is common in temples.

18. Handle Drum 

Handle Drum

Handle drums are side drums with handles. They are often in the lead for marching bands of percussion and wind instruments. The handle drum is a replacement for the tong drum (or pai drum). It is a Hakka instrument.


19. Flat Drum

Flat Drum

This is a small-size drum in the shape of a flat disk. The player holds it in one hand and strikes it with a small wooden stick held in the other hand. 

It is a Beiguan instrument, used especially for setting the atmosphere. It is played by the lead player and placed beside the board drum. Usually, when an opera plays the geng drum (to indicate time) or the war drum (to imply the approach of the enemy), they will also sound the flat drum. The flat drum is also used to accompany Mantong melodies (for instance, “A Branch of Fragrance” or “Red Pistils”). They can thus control both the tempo and the length of the melody by using different sides of the drum. Moreover, in these more leisurely songs, the flat drum is softer and less ominous than the board drum.


20. Bass Drum

Bass Drum

Also called the datang drum. This drum is of a larger size, usually with a diameter of more than one and a half foot. It is a round wooden bucket in which both sides are the same size. Usually it is placed on a four-footed wooden framework and hit by two wooden hammers. The tone is low and dull. There are two varieties for use on different occasions. One is for drama or the rear court in Taoist ceremonies: its face is larger than the tong drum, but shorter. Another is the ceremonial band bass drum array, which is a huge bass drum.


21. Pai Drum

Pai Drum

The pai drum is also called the side drum. It sounds like the bai drum. It is covered with leather on one side, and there is a hollowed out trench in the bottom. It is played with one or two sticks. The sound is solid, but a bit explosive. It might be compared to the commander of the band. It is a Beiguan instrument, also used in Taiwanese Opera, Jiaojia Opera, and the back court of Taoist ceremonies. It leads the melody for percussion and wind instruments.

22. Tang Drum
Tang Drum

It is called the tong drum in Hakka. It is also called the Tang Dynasty Drum and the small Tang Drum. 

Its form is similar to that of the bass drum. Both sides are tightly covered with leather, fixed on an arc-shape wooden drum with nails. It is played by being drummed with the narrow ends of two sticks that taper from thick to thin. The Tang drum’s sound box is larger than that of the pai drum. Its diameter is about 15 centimeters, with the box itself of a moderate volume and about 20 centimeters tall. When playing, different sounds can be produced from the sides and the center of the drum, with the sound from the side higher and that from the center lower. When it takes the lead, it is bright and adaptable, with a “tong tong” sound. For this reason, it is also known as the tong drum. 

It is a Beiguan instrument usually used in conjunction with the side drum. Its position is the same as, or second only to the pai drum, in Beiguan. Sometimes, it leads the music and is played by the leading player. It takes the lead when performing with wind instruments in Eight Tones, and works with the small cymbal in music with string instruments.

23. Single-Leather Drum
Single-Leather Drum

In Hakka it is called the north drum. In Beiguan, it is called the ban drum or toushou- zai, and also the ladazai, the board drum. 

It is a small, single-sided drum of solid wood, 25 centimeters in diameter and 10 centimeters in length, with a 5 centimeter in diameter moon-shape hole in its center, gradually broadening as it goes down. Its top is covered with cowhide or thick pigskin. The middle of the drum is beaten with two bamboo sticks, with a sound that resembles “Ba, La, Da,” short and sharp. Its tone is hard, sharp, and intense. It is usually played with the pai board. Because it’s heavy and not easy to carry, it is usually replaced by bangzi in Hakka Eight Tones. 

It is a Beiguan instrument and a lead instrument in acrobatic fighting scenes in Chinese Opera. It takes a dominant position in opera accompaniments and folk instrument ensembles, and is an indispensable part of the operatic percussion team.

24. Jar Drum 
Jar Drum

This is also called a flower-pot drum. The body of the drum is like a flowerpot. The four feet of its base are carved with dragon heads. The sound is softer than that of the bass drum, and some can be tuned.

25. Side Drum 
Side Drum

Also called small Tang drum, war drum, treble drum, and jingtang drum. The form is the same as that of the bass drum, but the size is smaller and the sound less persistent. The diameter of the drum head is about 15 to 18 centimeters. The sound is solid and resonant, and is excellent at expressing intensity.


26.  Alto Erhu

Alto Erhu

It is called the zhonghu for short. It is a fourth and fifth lower than the erhu. It is tuned at fifth lower than the nanhu, and has the same format, only larger. The alto erhu usually is tuned at the fifth. There are 2 tunings at the present. One is G-D1; the other is A-E1. Its tone is simple and low. It is often used for alto parts or accompaniment, but almost never for solos. It is an instrument created by modern Chinese musicians, developed from the erhu since 1940 to improve the alto sound. 


The alto erhu is an important instrument, often employed for solos, accompaniments or ensemble pieces, and is widely used by Chinese music groups.


27. Zither

It is also called the guzheng. This is a plucked instrument played resting on a table. There are 16 steel strings, which are held by posts. Improved zithers have 18, 19, 21, 23,25 or 26 strings. Since the number of strings has continuously increased, the material for the strings has been improved as well. At present, it uses stainless steel and wound nylon strings. Each type has its own charms, but the version with 21 wound nylon strings is presently the most popular. The tone of the zither is soft, elegant, and expressive. It can convey firmness or yielding, sadness or joy. It is used for solos, duets and ensemble performances, and in many kinds of operas, folk arts, and dances. It is one of the Beiguan instruments.

28. Pipa

This is a four-stringed instrument which is held to be plucked. There are Nanguan pipa and Beiguan pipa. The Nanguan pipa is pear-shaped with a curved head and strings made of silk or nylon. There are four large frets on the neck and nine smaller ones on the body. Each string can play fourteen tones. The Beiguan pipa is also pear-shaped, but it has more tones. There are six large neck frets and thirteen smaller body frets. Each string can play 20 tones. The pipa has a wide register, close to four octaves. The five demands made of its tone are that it be “bright, resonant, brisk, clear, and powerful.” It is tuned at ADEA. There are many techniques and fingerings – more than 40 techniques alone. The name of the pipa is derived from the two actions: pi is to pluck from right to left with the front side of the right hand, and pa is to pluck from left to right with the back of the right hand. In general, the tone is clear and soft, and is one of the best all-round plucked instruments in the Chinese orchestra, because it is expressive, clear, and capable. 

It is a Nanguan instrument. At present, the pipa used in Chinese music has a shape similar to that of the Beiguan pipa. There are quite a few post positions, 6 neck frets, and more than 20 smaller body frets.

29. Yueqin
Also called the “Beggar’s Fiddle,” this four-stringed instrument has a large moon-shaped sound box. It is held and plucked, with a short handle and two strings. The Taiwan yueqin has only two strings. There are no jiaxian third and fourth strings as on the Nanguan pipa..) In Jianghu and Zanian tones, the yueqin and the daguangxian are a perfect match. The yueqin is played with a plectrum. Its performance techniques are unique to it, and especially when wheel-tone and diantiao are used together, the rhythm is good. Although it has only two strings, it is a loud instrument. Because it is often played in the bingxianmode, it is very thrilling. Sometimes it creates rhythm by gliding, which makes it unique in the ensemble. Its sound can be very clear. It is mainly played to accompany Chegu or Taiping songs. Apart from this, street entertainers often use this instrument. 

30. Daguangxian

Also called the datongxian, this is a bass string instrument with a large sound box and a low register. The diameter is fifteen centimeters or more. The tube is like a small jug for increasing the resonance. It is usually made of the Chinese parasol tree, but sometimes of the Chinese fir or Taiwan red cypress. The bridge is made of bamboo and the bottom is reinforced with strips of metal, which deepens the sound. The bridge can also be made of seashell, with a good effect, but the material must be chosen and tested carefully. There are two kinds of string – silk and steel. The steel strings produce a greater volume of sound, but the silk ones have softer tones. The body is called the “General’s Post,” and it is made of Phyllostachys aurea, a species of bamboo, due to bamboo having better resonance than a wooden body. The head is symmetrical, though crooked like a human face. Traditionally, it has been made from material from the Lintou trees on the seashores and river banks of Taiwan. With very few Lintou trees remaining, and a particular shortage of old, large-diameter trees, the daguangxian is now mostly made of wood or bamboo. 

The daguangsian has a unique register. The hardness and lightness of this material can produce sounds similar to a crying human being. The older generation says that playing the daguangxian can produce a unique resonance with a very Taiwanese ambience. It’s an instrument that is particular to Taiwan. Its tone is somewhat gloomy, and it is good for expressing sad feelings. It is usually used for “crying tone” melodies and to play other tunes colored by tragedy.  It can also be used in non-Nanguan music.

31. Erhu 

The erhu’s stick, box, bumper, and bridge are all made of wood. The box is made of redwood, padauk, ebony or rose wood, with wood or bone inlaid patterns. This instrument is hexagonal, octagonal, or elliptic. The front is covered with python skin or snake skin, and there is a sound hole in the back. The stick is made of hardwood, with the head carved into a dragon head or in a curved, flattened shape. There is a ratchet drum for the soft silk strings and a wood or bamboo bridges, two strings, and a string anchor. It is played with a horsehair bow that passes between two of the strings, 82 centimeters long. Generally it is tuned at the fifth of D1-A1, with about four octaves in register between D1-D4. It is one of the mezzo instruments among the strings, and different registers have different characteristics. The mid-bass is full and powerful; the alto is soft and gentle; the treble is clear and bright, but in its upper reaches it is hard to control. The erhu is the broadest and most expressive of the stringed instruments. It has a graceful tone, and can play both soft and smooth tunes and pulsing, strong melodies, varying its sound repeatedly. Because it has been used in many different areas, its fundamental techniques are similar, but performance styles differ, with a strong local color. 

Other than for Nanguan music, it can be used in many other areas. It is one of the main rhythm instruments in Chinese musical groups. It is suitable for solo or ensemble performances, or for accompaniment, and it is vital to many folk operas.

32. Erxian

It is also called the touxian. The strings are made of silk and the wooden sound box is in the shape of a drum, with one side covered by a wooden sound board made of paulownia. There are twopegs are on the right side of the stick. The horsehair used in the bow is soft, and the stick is made of bamboo root. It is a soft instrument, with an unusual, thin tone. It must be played with the right hand. 

It is one of the Nanguan instruments; in fact, it is exclusive to Nanguan music. The erxian is the most important instrument for playing the accompaniment to Hakka folk songs. It often plays part of the melody as well. When part of an ensemble, it is mostly used as a foil for the dongxiao; the dongxiao takes the major role, and the erxian assists. In this relationship, the changes in the erxian’s melody are subordinated to that of thedongxiao, silk and bamboo combined, just as yin is subordinated to yang. This harmony of yin and yang characterizes both the musical thought and the worldview of the Chinese people.


33. Jinghu



This is also called the diao gui or the diao guizai in Hakka. There are two strings, and the body is made of bamboo, 10 centimeters long and 5 in diameter. It is covered with snake skin, and the strings are steel. The bow is made from a many-jointed bamboo pole. It is a treble string instrument, with a sharp, powerful tone that is also clear and mellow. It can express intense feelings, and also sadness with its steady, penetrating, expressive tones. It is a Beiguan instrument, the main instrument in Xipi (Beijing) opera.


34. Horn Qin 

Horn Qin

In Hakka it is called bahaxian or Horn Strings. It is the Taiwan opera’s tiexianzaior guchuixian

The fiddle’s box is made of curved copper covered with plastic board (phonograph speakers were pressed into service as fiddle boxes during the Japanese occupation). The tone is special, similar to the sound of the suona. The bow is a copper tube. On top is a curved copper horn which emits sound. The bridge is made of bamboo, and the two strings of steel. It is an alto instrument usually played as Mi-La fourth tuning or Re-La fourth tuning. The tone is very special. Miaoli Chen Eight Tones doesn’t use this instrument, but the Eight Tones Group from north of Hsinchu often uses it as a main instrument in accompaniments.


35. Banfu Fiddle
Banfu Fiddle

This is commonly called Head Strings, and has also been named Shell Strings, Coconut Fiddle, Ti Strings, banghu, Small banghu, qinhu and Big Strings. 

It is very different from the huqin. There is no sound box, and only two strings. The fiddle’s box is made of coconut shell in a semicircle shape. The front is covered with copper sheet. The bow is made of hardwood, and the bridge of bamboo. The strings are steel; originally, they were silk, but most have been changed to steel now. Its tone is bright and loud, so it is also called the “Coconut Fiddle.” It comes in treble, alto, and bass. The tone is clear and mellow, giving a feeling of space and distance. The bass range is solid and strong but not dull. It is good for gentle melodies. The alto range is clear and full, and resonant. It is good for lively, brisk and joyful music. The treble is sharp, tense and thin. It is acceptable for gentle playing, but noisy if played strongly, so it is only used occasionally for special effects. The higher reaches of the treble are hoarse and dry, so they are used very rarely. 

It is a Beiguan instrument that plays an important role in Hakka Eight Notes. Not only used solo and ensemble pieces, shell strings are popular for all kinds of music apart from Nanguan, like Taiping songs, Chegu, and the rear court of Peking opera. It is also the main instrument in the Beiguan’s Fulu opera.

36. Qinqin
Also called the qinhanzi or the guqin, this instrument has an octagonal or petal shape, 25 centimeters in diameter, with three strings, two fixed at one tone and the other a quint lower. Today’s qinqin is a round, python-skin sanxian. On some models, the sound box is round; on others, it is calabash-shaped. The tuning is A, D, A. Its sound lingers for a fairly long time. 

It is a Beiguan instrument, the only bass plucked instrument in Hakka Eight Notes. The qinqin of Beiguan that we use today has been improved, but it is only used by amateurs. Since there are not enough professionals for Luantan opera, they don’t use this instrument.

37. Sanxian (three-string fiddle)
Sanxian (three-string fiddle)

Also called the sianzi, this three-string fiddle comes in two varieties. The drum frame and shaft are made of hardwood. The larger one is about 105 centimeters long, with an 18 centimeter drum. It is called the “Northern Strings” because of its popularity in northern China. It is big and low-pitched. The smaller one is 75 centimeters long. It is called the “Southern Strings” because it is popular in southern China. It is small and high-pitched. The sound box is called the “Drum Head,” and it is small and square. The handle is quite long, with three strings on it. It is played with a plectrum. The Nanguan sanxian is covered with python skin on both sides of the sound box. Another variety has one side covered with python skin, the other side with wood. Glissando is its specialty. The tone of the sanxian is heavy and bright. Its bass is powerful and resonates strongly, its alto is forceful and loud, and its tenor is firm and clear. Like the pipa, it is an important plucked instrument. 

It is a Beiguan instrument. Both types of sanxian are used in Hakka Eight Notes, but rarely, since it requires a high level of skill. It is an important instrument for playing accompaniments, because of its powerful sound, usually used to strengthen the beat. The sanxian can also be an outstanding solo instrument.

38. Dulcimer
The body of this instrument is a butterfly shape. There are eight or ten groups of strings, each made up of two or three strings. It is played by being struck with two soft wooden sticks. The lowest pitch of the present two bridge – ten row dulcimer in Hakka Eight Notes is one whole tone lower than the tone of a suona. The sticks are light and flexible, and made of bamboo. A three-centimeter bamboo hammer is attached to their ends, and the striking face of the hammer is wrapped with velvet or thin leather. The tone of the dulcimer is mellow, graceful, clear, and lingering. Its register is very wide, and it can play either the melody or harmony. 

It is a Beiguan instrument, and an important part of the accompaniment in Hakka Eight Notes. It is also used in amateur performances.

39. Treble Erhu Fiddle
Treble Erhu Fiddle

It is a treble huqin, also called gaohu or yuehu for short. 

The column of the fiddle is short, and its face is smaller while tube is thinnerthan that of the nanhu. It is made of bamboo or wood. The head is shaped like a dragon or a phoenix. There is no pad under the bridge on a traditional gaohu, and no hold either. The tone is crystal-clear and bright, loud and penetrating, and very expressive. When it is played, its tube is placed between the player’s legs. The tone is controlled by the grip the legs have on it, and by how much of the window is covered by the left leg. Usually there is a pad between the fiddle and the legs, and the thickness and material of the pad have a strong influence on the tone. One of the improvements made to the gaohu was to add a fiddle-hold. The yuehu, which was originally popular in the Guangdong area, is also called an erhu in Guangdong. It was transformed from an erhu to a treble huqinto play in Yue (Guangdong) opera. It is, in fact, the main Guangdong instrument. The tube is smaller than that of the nanhu. The shape is round, and there is no window on the back. It is called a gaohu (high hu) because it is tuned a complete fifth higher than a nanhu and its register is higher. 

It is an important treble string instrument in Chinese music. It is used in solos, ensembles or as an accompaniment to local dance and opera. It is also commonly found in the music groups of local nationalities.

40. Ruan (Moon Guitar)
Ruan (Moon Guitar)

Also called the ruanxian, and the Han pipa during the Han dynasty. The ruan is composed of a head, a body, pegs, a port, a bridge, and four strings. There are frets on the finger board, and a sound hole in the panel board. It is played by either the fingers or a plectrum. The modern ruan has been improved, diversifying into today’s small ruan, middle ruan, big ruan, and low ruan. The tone of the small ruan is clear, that of the middle ruan is soft, and that of the big ruan low and muffled. It can be played solo, but is usually responsible for the rhythm in ensemble performances. The middle ruan and the big ruan are the most common. 

It is common in folk opera, sung-speech opera, and ensembles. It usually accompanies other instruments in modern Chinese music ensembles, playing the alto and bass rhythm. The middle ruan and the big ruan are the most common at present.

41. Willow Qin 

Due to the willow leaf shape of this instrument, it is called Willow qin. It is also known as the Willow-leaf qin, Willow-moon qin, Diamond Leg, and Earth pipa

It has the highest pitch of any of the plucked string instruments. Its shape is like that of a small pipa, with four strings, but it has a smaller size, two holes on the panel board, and no frets. It is played with a plectrum. The tone of the Willow qinis bright, graceful, and clearly defined. It can play broad, expressive melodies, as well as quite difficult pieces. Originally it was an important accompanying instrument in Shandong Willow Qin opera, Anhui Sizhou opera, and the Shaoxing Luantan opera of Zhejiang. The instrument started with two or threestrings, and has been modified to its current four-string form. Its register is broad, the semitones are complete, and its tone is graceful. 

As a treble plucked-string instrument, it is indispensable in modern Chinese music. In Chinese music groups, it plays treble parts and has many special effects. It is also the main accompaniment in some local operas and sung-speech performances.

42. Flute 

The general impression of the flute is that it is a very elegant instrument, and in fact, it is. Every one of its registers has its own characteristics, but they are all gentle and appealing. The bass is soft and subtle, the alto clear and smooth, and the treble unrestrained and clear. It is usually the practice to play a number of flutes in unison to carry the melody in an ensemble performance. 

The flute produces sounds by the passage of air through a mouthpiece. It is a simple principle, but the tone is greatly influenced by the player’s skill. The flute is designed so that it does not produce its sound just with the mouthpiece – the fingering is responsible for the intervals. Thus, differences in the way the flute is blown and the skill of the performer result in different sounds. This is generally not the case with other instruments. 

The flute we use today developed from the one-key flute traversière of the first half of the eighteenth century. In Mozart’s time, this one-key six-hole instrument was already an excellent performer. The modern flute was devised by a German manufacturer, Böhm, in 1832, who improved its fingering system. There was no need to press fingers on the holes for the correct pitch to be produced, so the performance could be relaxed and cheerful. Moreover, with larger holes, the sound was brighter, and he devised a different keying system which made performance easier. His flute has a cylindrical tube, with the interior of the top end conical, able to produce clear, full tones. One end is open. Most modern flutes are made of metal and have a bright tone. However, there remain some performers who are expert with the wooden flute, the sound of which is soft and sweet. 

The flute in C is the most important member of the flute family. The high-pitch flute is smaller, so it’s called a piccolo. It’s only half the length of the flute, and an octave higher. It is very penetrating when played in ensemble. Especially in a march, the brisk, soaring sound of the piccolo can enliven the mood. The alto flute is a transposing instrument with a keynote of G. Its register is lower than that of the flute in C. The register of the bass flute is an octave lower than the flute in C. It was used as a solo instrument during the times of Bach and Handel. It played a major role in the orchestra from the second half of the 18th century to the 19th century, but seldom performed solo during that time. In the 20th century, the flute gradually became a key instrument for solo performances.

43. Xiao (vertical bamboo flute)

This vertical wind instrument is also called the dongxiao. It is made of hollow bamboo, and sound is produced by blowing the mouthpiece at the rim of the upper end. There are five holes at the front in the middle, as well as a sound-exit hole and a sound-aid hole to adjust or amplify the sound. The standards for the Nanguan dongxiao are stricter: the length is around 54.5 centimeters, with a caliber of about two centimeters, and the pipe must have “ten eyes and ninesections.” At the third section counting from bottom to top there are two holes called phoenix eyes, and each of the fifth and sixth sections has two holes as well. The seventh section has a hole in the front and in the back. The sound of the xiao is soft and graceful. It is excellent for sad, peaceful, sentimental melodies, but its volume is weak and its range is restricted. Because it is constructed of high quality bamboo, the Nanguan dongxiao is very accurate tonally. It is the tuning instrument for the Nanguan, and also the instrument carrying the main melody. There are also instruments called xiao in some Beiguan music, but they are made of wood to no fixed pattern, unrestricted by the limits of “ten eyes and nine sections.” 

It is a Nanguan instrument. It is not generally used in a band, but rather for solo or ensemble performances.

44. Ba Zi
Ba Zi

In Beiguan music it is referred to as the haidi. In Nanguan it is called aiyuaizai, or nanai

The appearance of this instrument is identical to that of the suona, although it is smaller. Usually it is called the haidi. The tone is a fifth higher than that of the suona. The tone is very expressive ranging from cool and sharp, light and high. It is good for playing brisk melodies. The aizi has the chief responsibility for carrying the melody in Nanguan opera. It is good at gentle, soft music, and is always used in conjunction with the suona

It is particularly striking when the aizi lends a bittersweet taste to the composition. Older people say that the aizi can attract listeners from far away to the theatre, which underlines its importance to Nanguan opera. It is also used in Beiguan divinity plays to accompany vocal parts.

45. Xiaochui

This is also called the yu’ai. The middle-sized version is called the xiaochui, even though it is blown at considerable volume in Beiguan music. The tubo-tone is more or less F sharp, and the tubo-tone of the yu’ai is approximately G. 

46. Suona Horn
Suona Horn

The Hakka people call the suona horn a flute, but it is also called a horn. The Hui people refer to it the suernai or Gold Mouth Horn. The suona is originally Persian or Arabian. 

It is a complicated instrument, composed of three parts: a body of about 40 cm, a mouthpiece of about 7 cm, and the bell. The body is made of solid, hard wood. It is a hollow cone, carved in the shape of a bamboo joint. It has 7 holes in the front, and one in the back. The mouth of the holes is where the sound is produced. The base is a tray in the shape of a calabash. There are double reeds on top. The bell, also called the bowl, is made of copper and acts as an amplifier, and to some extent, to correct the intonation. The sound is ringing and sharp, and very vigorous. When played treble, it is as resonant as a bell; when alto, it is light and energetic. The tone can be either rough or soft. The model usually found is the D treble A tubo-tone suona (others include the minor treble suona, the alto suona, the haidi, and the suona modified by the addition of keys). It is a wind instrument with a very characteristic style, full of local color and folk associations, a special instrument which can express strong feelings and reinforce sad and happy moods. 

It is one of the Beiguan instruments, and it takes the leading role in Hakka Eight-Tone music. It is the emotional focal point of performances whether by a suonaensemble or solo. The performer uses breath control to change the tone, or even to imitate all sorts of sounds, such as vocalizations or animal cries or bird calls. Before the formal ending in Hakka Eight-Tone, the suona often mimics the sound of human laughter. Such interesting humorous effects are quite rare in other Taiwan musical styles. 

It was used for military music in ancient times, but today it is played during wedding and funeral rituals, and at festivals in honor of deities. In local opera or spoken and sung music, it is good at imitating the sound of the human voice. This aspect makes the music much more amusing and interesting.

47. Da Chui
Da Chui

The largest of the traditional aerophones is called the da chui. It is loud with a bright tone, and is strongly associated with popular customs. It is used in the Beiguan’s wind instrument and percussion music and end of performance pieces, and ceremonial processional wind instrument and percussion music.

48. Bamboo flute 

Bamboo flute

In Hakka language this is called the xiao flute. Other names for it are the pinzi, the horizontal-blown, or the horizontal flute. It is said that it was brought to Chang’an, the capital city, after Zhang Qian was dispatched as an envoy to the western regions by Emperor Wu of Han. (It is also said it was introduced from Mongolia in the Han dynasty.) 

The flute has a long history in China. It is very widespread and there are many different types, the most common of which are qudi and bangdi. The qudi is sometimes referred to the bandi. Its body is thick and long, and the sound is broad and soft, usually in the key of D. It is popular in southern China, and is the main accompaniment to Kun opera. The bangdi, on the other hand, is thin and short. The sound is pure and bright, resonant and sharp, usually in the key of C. Broadly speaking, it is popular in the north, and it forms the main accompaniment to Bangzi opera. The tone is bright and clear, and very penetrating. When playing with the finger fully pressing Sol, in the highest register, the tone is sharp and intense. But it’s not easy to play softly. In the lower register, it is muffled and not easy to play forcefully. The registers in which the flute performs the best are the medium and high pitches. The tone is bright and clear, sweet with a wide variation in volume. It can play extended folk song melodies at a high volume, but also produce the expansive mood of the broad plains. It can perform both cheerful, showy dance tunes and reflective, graceful melodies. It can produce an enthusiastic, merry atmosphere, but it is better at tunes that are elegant and even sentimental. 

The flute forms the accompaniment for Hakka Eight Notes. In wind instrument music, the flute is most important, and it always takes the lead. It can perform solo, or in duets or ensembles.

49. Pipes

In Hakka language, this instrument is called tazi. During the Song dynasty, it was referred to as touguan

The material for the Chinese oboe is bamboo or wood. It is made by taking a section of bamboo and hollowing it out, with a length of about 20 centimeters and an inner diameter of about 1.6 centimeters. The reed on the top of the oboe is blown. The body of the instrument is narrow and short. The hole placement is the same as on the suona horn, with eight finger holes altogether. The pitch is La or Si. The modern ensemble contains treble and alto oboes in the key of D, and the alto has a very bright tone.

In Hakka Eight Notes music, it was originally used for accompaniment. It is played with the fingering of the heguan or six-hole pipe.